Friday and books and clothes and stuff

Hello! Long time, no blog – first my site went down with a bug, and then I did!  I’ve been off work since Monday, and spent virtually all of that time in bed, in the bath, or moving between the two.

Generally, the silver lining of sickness is the time to potter around with sewing or stitching projects.  Even if you can’t face the rattle of the machine, there’s always some nice relaxing cutting or pinning or pressing or knit/crochet to pass the time with.  But, I just haven’t had the concentration for it – and instead, mostly been simultaneously completely bored and totally wiped out.

What I have been doing is a lot of reading. I’m pretty fast, which is actually kind of a curse because amazing stories are over too quickly, and I can’t afford to buy books at the same rate as I get through them.  So I read the good ones over and over.  And while I haven’t been up to sewing, what I’ve hankered after is a book about sewing. No, not a craft book, or ‘how-to’ book (which can be frustrating if you ‘can’t do’ there and then) but a story about someone sewing, and enjoying it.

About the only book I’ve ever come across that does it well is this one by my favourite author, Carol Shields.  Check out Amazon for the synopsis – but here are the juicy sewing bits:

“Brenda grew up wearing beautiful clothes. At Wilmot Public Grammar School in Cicero, when other girls wore dresses of faded rayon passed on to them by their older sisters, Brenda Pulaski wore fresh cotton dresses – Egyptian cotton; ‘Irons like a hanky,’ Elsa said – made from the latest back-to-school Butterick or Simplicity patterns. There was hand-embroidery or white pique trim on the sleeves and the collars. In fourth grade Brenda was the first in school to have a New Look ballerina skirt, the first to have a blouse with a Barrymore collar.” (p.27)

“When it came to Brenda’s clothes, Elsa had done most of the actual sewing, and she had done all the cutting. ‘Cutting tells,’ she like to say, emphatically and mysteriously. She had insisted, too, on putting in the zippers and setting the sleeves. ‘When you’re older you can set a sleeve,’ she promised Brenda. ‘Plenty of time for that later on.’ (Brenda at age thirteen or fourteen ran up side seams, basted, and did hems.) In the evenings while Brenda did her homework, or later, when she was in bed, Elsa sat under the lamp with the radio playing and worked on inverted pleats or handmade eyelets. ‘Sewing’s damn hard work,’ she used to say with just a hint of Slavic inflection, ‘so it’s just plain stupid to use cheap yard goods.'” (p.28)

“The quilting frame seemed altogether too rigid to contain what she wanted. Instead, she had begun the process of quilting on a lap frame – and before the actual piecing was finished. She was, in fact, uncertain about how to finish it, and feared that the weight of her hand might be overly heavy. She wanted a pattern that was severe but lyrical; she would have to be careful or she might rush it toward something finite and explanatory, when all the while she wanted more. Perhaps, she admitted to herself, staring out the window late one afternoon at the weak sunlight striping the garage roof, perhaps she wanted more than mere cloth and stitching could accomplish.” (p.45)

I hugely enjoy Carol’s Shields’ writing, characters, plots, and dialogue, but I do love this little vein of sewing that runs through Happenstance.

Things are on the up today, having spent some time taping together and cutting out a couple of Victory patterns.  I plumped for Hazel, after seeing Scruffy Badger’s beautiful colour blocking, and Chloe, after this cute version by Lizz.

(After sticking together 60 odd bits of paper, it feels somewhat anti-climatic to remember I still have the whole lot to sew.)

PS: Last but not least, I’ve been watching a few films, and one of my recent favourites is The Young Victoria – it’s quite, quite beautiful.  I just mention it because (a) the clothes are gorgeous:

(Love her outfit!)

And (b), subsequent web-searching led me to Costume Captures, a blog which documents the clothing from period films, including The Young Victoria.  Each film is subdivided into the main costumes, with multiple shots of each one – perfect if you wanted to recreate something in particular.  One could spend hours browsing, and I probably have.

Have a good weekend everyone! (oh, and if you happen to see any fabric that’s a close match for Victoria’s plaid in the photo above, please shout!  Sadly no success so far.)

4 thoughts on “Friday and books and clothes and stuff

  1. Hi Amy, I like the paragraphs you shared from the Carole Shields book…. it seems like a new kind of reading experience, catching such wonderful sewing details.
    And I’m so glad you’re making some of the Victory patterns – it is a faff sticking the pieces altogether, isn’t it! But totally worth it – look forward to seeing yours…

  2. @Rachel and @Jane – yes, it is mostly about quilting, just a few passages on making clothes. But I do also like the bits about her thinking and designing and creative ideas too, and meeting other fellow crafters.

    @Scruffybadger – they are wonderful details, aren’t they? I was drooling over ‘inverted pleats or handmade eyelets’… seriously, there should be more sewing in fiction! Thanks for the encouragement on Victory patterns.

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